Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

An Immense Pride in American Food
 
A Feature Review of 
 

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine
Sarah Lohman

Hardback: Simon and Schuster, 2016
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Reviewed by Andrew Camp
 
 
American cuisine and eating habits are a fascinating subject to me, having worked as a professional chef. We are a nation of immigrants and transplants. Our economic class structure also plays a role in American cuisine. Food deserts in lower income areas have been lamented by many, while middle and upper class people enjoy the bounty of beautiful farmer’s markets year-round.

Because of this, there are widely disparate views on eating and food habits. It seems that every week the newest and surely the greatest diet is being sold on the evening news, which many of us watch while eating a highly-processed dinner. Michael Pollan voiced this very concern in his seminal book The Omnivore’s Dilemma:

Consuming these neo-pseudo-foods alone in our cars, we have become a nation of antinomian eaters, each of us struggling to work out our dietary salvation on our own. Is it any wonder Americans suffer from so many eating disorders? In the absence of any lasting consensus about what and how and where and when to eat, the omnivore’s dilemma has returned to America with an almost atavistic force (301).

While this seems to be the case, is there anything that unites American cuisine? Sarah Lohman, author of the new book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, wondered the same thing. She recognized the extremely diverse culinary traditions of America, but then pondered, “If I look past these differences, I wondered what united America’s culinary culture?” (xv).

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A Hero On and Off the Diamond
 
A Review of

Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero
Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb

Paperback: WJK Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Jeff Crosby

 
 

Just two years prior to Jackie Robinson’s death, New York literary giant Random House turned down the chance to publish the retired Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer’s memoir. Why? Because he insisted the book address not only his career as a professional athlete but also his work beyond the ballpark.

Based on that factoid alone, it’s safe to say that the principled Jackie Robinson would highly approve of this appreciative new biography by Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb.

Surprisingly, Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography devotes just one chapter to the iconic Brooklyn infielder’s nine seasons with the Dodgers. In contrast, the authors devote four full chapters and portions of several others to Robinson’s work in civil rights, politics and business.

It’s undoubtedly as Robinson would want it.

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Men of Their Times and Places
 
A Feature Review of
 

Empire Baptized:
How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected
Wes Howard-Brook

Paperback: Orbis, 2016.
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Reviewed by Alden Bass
 
 
In his 1988 Louis H. Jordan Lectures, later published as Drudgery Divine, Jonathan Z. Smith argued that studies of early Christianity were hopelessly mired in confessional apologetics. Narrowing in on the study of Hellenistic Mystery Religions, he observed that Protestants were eager to critique the pagan rites, believing the “pure” religion of Paul to have been corrupted by Romish pomp and ritual. Likewise, Unitarian and Rationalist scholars, in an attempt to get at the Protestants, fingered Paul for introducing “Hellenism” into the rustic parables of Jesus. The Catholics defended all of it.

To Smith’s account we could add “radical” Christian treatments of early Christianity which have multiplied in recent years. Alistair Sykes, Andy Alexis-Baker, Alan Kreider, Everett Ferguson (to name a few) have described an early Christianity which looks an awfully lot like ana/baptist communities: nonviolent ethic, gathered-church ecclesiology, believers’ baptism, and (for Ferguson) acapella congregational singing. These scholars are not inventing things, but they are calling attention to areas neglected by earlier scholars, in the process revising the story of the earliest Christians to embrace their own traditions.

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New, Peaceful Models of Understanding
 
A Review of 
 

God Without Violence: Following A Nonviolent God in a Violent World
J. Denny Weaver

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2016
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Reviewed by: Michelle Wilbert
 
 
In the wake of the recent election, the topics of nonviolence and nonviolent direct action have seen renewed interest in the liberal Christian community—and for good reason as divisions deepen and rage and rancor dominate our civil discourse. What is also occurring is a broader conversation about systemic violence, verbal and emotional abuse and coercion and a long overdue examination of the violence inherent in our religious historical narrative and its impact on culture and society.  Religious violence is on the upswing and a new ways of understanding and living out our inherited religious and theological story is necessary.

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A Love Beyond Religion
 
A Feature Review of
 

Rumi’s Secret: The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love
Brad Gooch.

Hardback: HarperCollins, 2017.
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Reviewd by By Erin Ensinger
 
 

FIVE of our Favorite Poems by Rumi

 
Rumi has always been a miracle and a mystery to me. Like many other Americans, I first met Rumi in the dark days after 9/11, when this poet from the Muslim world made his unlikely ascent to the top of the best-seller charts. Raised in conservative circles, I ferreted his poems away from critical eyes, savoring them with all the relish of a guilty pleasure. His spiritual hunger, reckless love and tolerance of people no matter their faith or ethnicity spoke to me almost against my will.  In his new biography, Rumi’s Secret, Brad Gooch captures all of these elements that have caused some to place Rumi in Walt Whitman’s family tree. At the same time, Gooch remains true to his title, preserving an air of mystery around the divine secrets Rumi himself found expressible only through poetry, music and the whirling dance of sama.

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The Difficult, Life-Giving Path
 
A Feature Review of 

The Way of Letting Go:
One Woman’s Walk Toward Forgiveness
 

Wilma Derksen

Paperback: Zondervan, 2017
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Reviewed by Tamara Hill Murphy
 
 

I collect radical forgiveness stories.

As I continue to come to terms with my own experiences of trauma, I search out forgiveness mentors through stories – real life or mythologized. Through reading a wide array of stories, I’ve discovered what is probably logical: No act of forgiveness happens without, first, an incident of suffering. In this way, I guess you could also say that I collect stories of suffering.

It was this habit that led me to Wilma Derksen’s memoir of trauma and forgiveness, The Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk Toward Forgiveness, released in February. Derksen, now an international speaker on victimization and criminal justice issues, was on November 30, 1984, a mother and struggling journalist. When her 13-year-old daughter, Candace, called to ask for a ride home from school. Derksen was busy with a writing deadline, and asked her daughter to walk home from school instead.  After that phone conversation, she never spoke to her daughter again.

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Whose Christianity?
Which Narrative?

 
A Feature Review of

The Benedict Option:
A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
Rod Dreher

Hardback: Sentinel Books, 2017
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith

 

For over a decade, Rod Dreher has been observing and commenting on the demise of Western culture, and sketching the basic ideas that he presents in his new book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (which releases today).  His account of the deep fragmentation and crumbling of Western culture, and especially the devastation that flows from our uncritical submission to the economic forces of market capitalism, is one that many social critics across the ideological spectrum have explored over the last century, from Russell Kirk to Wendell Berry to Robert Putnam to Noam Chomsky. The title of Dreher’s book is appropriated from the final pages of Alasdair MacIntyre’s prescient book After Virtue (originally published in 1981), in which MacIntyre suggests that the inevitable end of the crumbling of Western culture will be a sort of “dark age,” in which civilization would only be preserved by communities that function in a similar way to those of the Benedictine monasteries that preserved much of Western culture through the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire. I agree with MacIntyre and Dreher that in our age of prevailing individualism, we need to find ways of cultivating community that stand in sharp contrast to the manifold fragmentation of the dominant culture.

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“We all want to go Home”
 
A Feature Review of 

Universal Harvester:
A Novel
John Darnielle

Hardback: FSG Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Josh Thomas
 
 

Steal home before sunset, cover up my tracks
Drive home with old dreams at play in my mind and the wind at my back
Break the lock on my own garden gate when I get home after dark
Sit looking up at the stars outside like teeth in the mouth of a shark

I used to live here
I used to live here

-Genesis 3:23 by The Mountain Goats


 
Nostalgia as a concept is inherently fragile as it’s an abstract desire and longing for a time already passed. Perhaps the most nostalgic era in recent history is the 1990s; this was, of course, the last decade before ‘The Internet Age’ completely established itself. Information wasn’t yet accessible through smart phones and you could easily get lost relying solely on a physical map rather than a voice through your phone telling you exactly when to turn. This turn of the century—when video stores to rent VHS tapes weren’t of a bygone era—is the backdrop of John Darnielle’s second novel, Universal Harvester.
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A Patient Attendance to Beauty
 
A Feature Review of 

God of Earth: Discovering a Radically Ecological Christianity.
Kristin Swenson

Paperback: WJK Books, 2016.
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Reviewed by Alan Van Wyk
 
 

In her brief and stunningly beautiful meditation God of Earth: Discovering a Radically Ecological Christianity, Kristen Swenson proposes a rather simple theological experiment: to take seriously the Incarnation. Of course, it is never a simple thing to take a theological claim seriously; doing so does often lead to quite radical ends. Nevertheless, Swenson begins with that most basic of Christian claims: “the one eternal Creator God chose out of love to become incarnate in order to reconcile wayward human beings to God.” So no, it is not really a simple claim, but even here, in this opening, Swenson suggests a subtle shift. Taken seriously, the incarnation is no longer about The Incarnation, full stop, but about the incarnation of God; no longer about Jesus as the Incarnate, but about Jesus as the incarnation of God. And this shift opens, for Swenson, a series of questions:

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Story and Experience 

A Feature Review of 

Why I Left / Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son

Bart Campolo / Tony Campolo

Hardback: HarperOne, 2017
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Reviewed by Jeff Nelson.
 

Early in this book, Bart Campolo shares the story of what led to his leaving the Christian faith. During a ride on his bike, he crashed head-first into a tree that led to weeks of recovering his memory followed by fresh realizations related to identity and belief. Among such realizations came one of the biggest: he, the son of a nationally renowned evangelical leader and speaker and with his own long career as a pastor, speaker, and missionary himself, no longer believed in God.

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